How to create a clear project plan

How to create a clear project plan

One of the critical factors for project success is having a well-developed project plan.

One of the critical factors for project success is having a well-developed project plan

Here is a six-step approach to creating a project plan. It not only provides a road map for project managers to follow, but also acts as the project manager's premier communications and control tool throughout the project.

  • Step 1: Explain the project plan to key stakeholders and discuss its key components.

    Unfortunately, the "project plan" is one of the most misunderstood terms in project management. Hardly a fixed object, the project plan is a set of living documents that can be expected to change over the life of the project. Like a road map, it provides the direction for the project. And like the traveller, the project manager needs to set the course for the project, which in project management terms means creating the project plan. Just as a driver may encounter road construction or new routes to the final destination, the project manager may need to correct the project course as well.

    A common misconception is that the plan equates to the project time line, which is only one of the components of the plan. The project plan is the major work product from the entire planning process, so it contains all the planning documents. For example, a project plan for constructing a new office building needs to include not only the specifications for the building, the budget and the schedule, but also the risks, quality metrics, environmental impact, and so on.

    Components of the project plan include:

    Baselines: These are sometimes called performance measures because the performance of the entire project is measured against them. They are the project's three approved starting points for scope, schedule and cost. These provide the stakes in the ground, and are used to determine whether or not the project is on track during execution.

    Baseline management plans: These include documentation on how variances will be handled throughout the project.

    Other work products from the planning process: These include plans for risk management, quality, procurement, staffing and communications.

    Read How to create a risk register.

  • Step 2: Define roles and responsibilities.

    Identifying stakeholders - those who have a vested interest in either the project or the project outcome - is challenging and especially difficult on large, risky, high-impact projects. There are likely to be conflicting agendas and requirements among stakeholders, as well as different slants on who needs to be included. For example, the stakeholder list of the city council where a new office building is being constructed could differ from that of an engineering consulting firm. It would certainly include the developer who wants to build the office complex, the engineering firm that will build the office building, citizens who would prefer a city park, consultants to study the environmental impacts, the city council itself, and so on. The engineering firm may have a more limited view. It is important for the project manager to get clarity and agreement on what work needs to be done by whom, as well as which decisions each stakeholder will make.

  • Step 3: Develop a scope statement.

    The scope statement is arguably the most important document in the project plan. It is used to get common agreement among the stakeholders about the project definition. It is the basis for getting the buy-in and agreement from the sponsor and other stakeholders and decreases the chances of miscommunication. This document will most likely grow and change with the life of the project. The scope statement should include: Business need and business problem Project objectives, stating what will occur within the project to solve the business problem Benefits of completing the project, as well as the project justification Project scope, stated as which deliverables will be included and excluded from the project Key milestones, the approach and other components as dictated by the size and nature of the project.

    It can be treated like a contract between the project manager and sponsor, one that can only be changed with sponsor approval.

    Read more: What companies look for when recruiting CIOs

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